Thursday, August 18, 2005

Tony Schaffer Goes on the Record on Able Danger

Prior to going on the record with The Washington Post, Lt. Col. Anthony Schaffer was posting anonymously about his experiences with Able Danger at Intel Dump (grudging hat tip: The Cauldron). Although the discussion in the MSM and in most of the blogosphere will continue to center around Jamie Gorelick, "The Wall," Executive Orders and all matter of legalese, the Simian Logician continues to maintain that the real story here is data mining and its potential application in the Global War on Terror. So while the media scrum will be about getting the history right and to a greater extent playing politics and ascribing blame, I would encourage My Dogs readers to be future-oriented and to follow the data because this is where the true value in the Able Danger saga resides.

So what do we learn about the AD data mining initiative from Schaffer?

Oh - and as to your opinion that ABLE DANGER was a precursor to the IDC - you are flat out wrong - and obviously not keeping up with what is coming out in the press. ABLE DANGER partnered with LIWA/IDC to use the LIWA/IDC capability to obtain the data on Atta and the other 9-11 terrorists. I brokered the relationship... And - wrong again on the IDC using only "classified" databases - IDC used 2.5 terabytes (a whole hell of a lot of data) - all open source - to identify Atta and the others that have been identified. Classified data bases were only use to "confirm" the links subsequent to the open source data runs. Oh - and DATA MINING is not overt or clandestine - it just "is" - it is something that is done with either open source or classified information. ABLE DANGER used an array of both open and close databases...

We learn first that Able Danger partnered with other military intelligence teams to conduct the data mining activities. Able Danger was charged by Gen. Hugh Shelton with identifying potential al Qaeda personnel operating in the US and likely leveraged the technology infrastructure and data resources / techniquesof The Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) / Information Dominance Center (IDC). So existing technologies and analytics capabilities which currently exist within DOD can potentially be applied effectively to Homeland Security efforts.

Second, Schaffer explains to us that Able Danger was able to identify the four hijackers with open source information that could be obtained from all matter of public databases including DMVs, Lexis-Nexis, etc. This should be of particular interest to civil libertarians who feared the use of more invasive data by the now-shuttered Total Information Awareness initiative. In other words, AD was successful with largely non-classified information that was gleaned in a manner wholly consistent with protecting civil liberties. Of course on the other hand, had open-source data been married with classified information, who is to say that 12 of the 19 hijackers might not have been identified? And when coupled with surveillance and action 19 of 19 and a total disruption of the plot? Again, personal freedoms and the right to privacy must be respected, but data mining can be a tool used to tighten domestic security. Getting the full scoop on Able Danger is therefore a very high priority.

In another post on the story, Phillip Carter at Intel Dump concurs with my argument on data mining:

Of course, pitfalls remain for the use of these systems. The U.S. must implement robust control measures to ensure systems like Able Danger don't evolve into an extra-Constitutional menace. Some of those control measures might include the use of ex ante and ex post judicial review for these programs; the appointment of a bipartisan commission to monitor these systems; and a procedural mechanism which would allow citizens to learn of the data held by the govenrment about them (similar to what exists now under FOIA, but better). Ultimately, however, I think the potential promise outweighs the risk. The government's primitive passenger screening system in place on 9/11 identified 9 of the 19 hijackers, according to the 9/11 Commission report. Other data mining systems have helped bigtime in the efforts to combat terrorism financing. We need these systems, and we need to find ways to mitigate the legal, policy and political risks so that we can put them into action.

More thoughts on data mining and Able Danger are provided by Intel Dump's Jon Holdaway here.

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